An Eyre of Relief

Spring Training Game Twenty-Two – Cubs 11 Rangers 7
WP – Michael Wuertz (1-0, BS 1) LP – Jesse Ingram (0-1)

wflag.jpg Daryle Ward’s walk-off grand slam in the 9th gave the Cubs the victory over Sammy Sosa and the Texas Rangers. The Cubs offense had another big day….11 runs on 17 hits but Scott Eyre’s performance in the 7th inning changed the course of the ballgame. After Roberto Novoa walked the bases loaded, he could not find the strike zone, Eyre came in and retired the Rangers in order and did not allow a run to score. Jacque Jones tied the game in the bottom of the inning with a 2-run homer and Daryle Ward gave the Cubs the lead with a RBI single to right that scored Ronny Cedeno.

Jason Marquis had his first rough outing as a Cub and gave up 3 home runs on the afternoon with two of them being of the back-to-back variety on consecutive pitches. Marquis finished the day after 5 innings, he allowed 5 runs on 9 hits, walked 3 and struck out 4.

Cubs pitching gave up lead off walks in 3 different innings on Thursday and a grand total of 9 on the day. One of Marquis’ scored on the first home run of the day by Gerald Laird and one of Rocky Cherry’s in the 6th scored as well. The Cubs pitching staff has to limit the free passes they give up on (what seems like) a regular basis, the inability to throw strikes historically has killed this team. Cubs pitching did not record a 1-2-3 inning all afternoon, and regardless of the fact it is spring training, this is concerning….4 of the 6 pitchers that saw action against the Rangers’ figure to be on the opening day roster.

Sammy Sosa was limited to an infield single against his former team, it was a tapper to 3rd and Sosa beat out the throw by Mark DeRosa. Ronny Cedeno made a great play on one of Sosa’s grounders….the ball took a bad hop and Cedeno barehanded it and threw out Sosa at 1st.

Jason Marquis did not throw the way he had all spring and days like Thursday will happen to even the best in the league. Marquis did give the Cubs five innings and when he departed the game was within reach. Granted this was a spring training game, but a performance like the one on Thursday does put a team, with the offensive capabilities the Cubs have, in position to win the game.

All of the Rangers’ runs off of Marquis came via the home run ball. In the 2nd inning he walked Hank Blalock to start the inning (leadoff walks always produce runs) and then on consecutive pitches he gave up the home runs to Gerald Laid and Ramon Vazquez. The Rangers hit the ball hard in the 2nd inning….Alfonso Soriano recorded two of the three outs in the inning. In the 4th, Marquis pitched around a lead off walk to Vazquez. The Rangers had the bases loaded with 1-out and Marquis was able to induce a 5-4-3 double play off the bat of Frank Catalanotto. In the 5th, Marquis retired the first two batters he faced before giving up a double to Hank Blalock and the 2nd home run of the day to Gerald Laird.

Marquis did single in the 2nd to center and drove in Ronny Cedeno.

Rocky Cherry pitched in relief of Marquis in the 6th and gave up a run on 1 hit, walked 2 and struck out 1. Roberto Novoa relieved Cherry in the 7th and could not find the strike zone. He walked the bases loaded without recording an out. If Novoa had a chance to make the roster out of spring training those chances just got a little slimmer after his performance.

Scott Eyre, however, gave the Cubs Faithful reinforcement of how valuable he is out of the pen. As stated, Eyre took the mound with no outs and the bases loaded. He was able to record the first out of the inning via a ground ball to 3rd that DeRosa threw home. Eyre then recorded back-to-back strikeouts to end the inning….one Matt Kata swinging and the other with the pitcher Rick Bauer looking (note: if this would have been a regular season game a) a pitcher for the Rangers would not have been batting and b) Ron Washington would have pinch hit in that situation). Eyre did his job….plain and simple.

After Les Walrond threw in the 8th, Michael Wuertz appeared to be in line for his first save of the spring in the 9th. Wuertz retired the first two batters he faced before giving up a single to Matt Kata and a walk to Desi Relaford. Relaford did have a good at bat but Wuertz was ahead in the count 0-2 before giving up the free pass. Wuertz looked good on the mound, confident, but like Angel Guzman, he has to finish off major league hitters on a regular basis. The Cubs have given up too many runs with two outs in recent history.

Whatever Lou Piniella said to Daryle Ward must have worked. Ward had another big day at the plate. He was 2-2 with an RBI single in the 7th and the walk-off grand slam in the 9th. He had a good at bat as well and fouled off a couple of pitches until he could get one he (apparently) liked. Derrek Lee had another huge day, he was 2-4 with 3 RBI’s that included a ground rule double to right in the 2nd inning that drove in Blanco and Marquis.

Ryan Theriot continued to impress and makes the argument for being the Cubs starting second baseman at some point this season. Theriot doubled in the 1st and scored on Lee’s RBI single. He also walked and stole 2nd….he was 1-4 with a run scored, a walk and a stolen base hitting behind Alfonso Soriano.

The Piniella Factor….

Of all the moves the Cubs made in the off-season, Lou Piniella could end up being the biggest one of them all. He has made a difference, even in the exhibition season, with this team. His “pep talks” have seemingly worked and his philosophy is more than a welcomed change. On Thursday, as a possible sign of what the Faithful can expect this season, Lou Piniella started Henry Blanco and Jason Marquis twice with Theriot at the plate and a 3-2 count….how many managers do that with a pitcher and a catcher, much less in a spring training game. Theriot grounded out to Vazquez at short and without Piniella starting the runners Derrek Lee would have never had a chance to hit with runners in scoring position as Theriot’s grounder would have resulted in an inning ending double play.

Box Score from MLB.com

The Cubs face Greg Maddux and the San Diego Padres on Thursday in Peoria. Mark Prior is scheduled to make the start, Rich Hill is slated to throw in relief and Kerry Wood was scheduled to throw on Thursday but he has been pushed back to Friday.

Quote of the Day

"Look at everything as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time." - Betsy Smith

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